He's all and he is more.

BY : DarklingWillow
Category: M through R > The Old Guard
Dragon prints: 167
Disclaimer: I do not own The Old Guard movie (or comics), and I do not make any profit from this writing.

Chapter 1.

 

            He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, loosening his shoulders with a slow roll, and lifted his hand to adjust the scarf over his face a little better. The troops were restless, anxious even. The Franks were within sight, but their line had halted as well, their armour and shields shining bright in the late evening sun. 

The Franks had the advantage, Yusuf knew that. 

His troops had been beaten back, down from their advantage point, into the hollow between the rises, and now they had the sinking sun at their backs. They would be blinded by their shining shields, and fighting upwards, again. 

Yusuf muttered a half-hearted prayer, stamping his feet into the hard packed earth, hoping, praying, that this time would not be the last time, but if he was unlucky enough to get himself killed, that he would find peace in Heaven. 

 

The commanders were shouting again, waving their weapons, demanding a charge. Yusuf pulled his sword from the scabbard and raised it with a shout. But he could feel that his heart was not in it. Not anymore. Not after all these months of fighting. Had it been years, perhaps? 

So much death, so much blood. So much of it his own blood. 

They began moving, charging up the rise, the Franks screaming as they began to move as well. As one, the troops ran toward certain death and carnage.

 

Yusuf had believed that he would not die for a long time now. Had believed that he was meant for greater things.

How long had it been? 

Had he really seen ten summers since that fateful day at the river? Or had it been more? Could it be that it had already been fifteen? It couldn’t have been fifteen. Either way, he had been twenty back then. 

 

Twenty and already considered a man, married with a son, and another child on the way. It had been a marriage of convenience for their parents, a business deal to ensure the continuing of his father in law’s business. A third son with a meagre inheritance was no catch but was better than marrying an elder from the next town. And she was happy with Yusuf’s limited attention. He performed his husbandly duties, of course, and he loved her. As a friend. She was a dear, beloved friend, but beyond that, she was just someone to share a house with, share a life with, do his duty by, do as community expected of him.

They had been out by the river, enjoying the coolness of the water to beat the heat of the sun. Chores had been done, the women had been further upriver washing the clothes, the little children shrieking in the shallows, the girls baring their legs to their knees to wade in the water and watch the children. But he and the young men had gone out on the rocks. They had decided to jump off the rocks and swim in the deeper waters. 

 

Yusuf had always been a good swimmer. He had learned young, his father had made sure of that. The memory of a younger brother lost to the river had ensured that all his sons had learned to swim. Yusuf’s mother had been horrified, but she still allowed it. She had remembered the sorrow of the family when Yusuf’s youngest uncle had been pulled from the water, the uncle that Yusuf and his brothers had never met. Yusuf had always enjoyed the water, and he had been envied in his town for how well he could swim. 

Yet, that day, he’d gone too deep. He’d gone too far, and the current had taken him. Helpless he had been pulled under, exhausted he had been carried downstream, away from his friends, away from the terrified children, and the screaming women. 

Down, down, down he had gone, until his aching limbs could do no more, and his lungs screamed for air, and he had given up. It had been a peaceful feeling, that last moment before darkness, and that sense of floating in nothingness had taken over. 

And then he had felt his feet hit rocks, and his arms and legs had begun flailing and kicking before his mind even fully understood what was happening. He had breached the surface, choking, gagging, fading again, but the bank had been right there. He had fallen on the wet ground face first, retching, purging himself of water, endless water, and then he had lost consciousness. Some herders had found him an hour later and helped him home. That was the day he began to doubt Allah.

 

            Yusuf raised his sword as the lines clashed, the memories of his near death fading to the background as the heat of battle took over his mind as it always did. The pain of small wounds and sore muscles became a pleasant buzz, the smell of blood in the air intoxicating, the din of the battle lost in a dome of eerie silence around him. 

He had trained hard, had found that his talents reached beyond merchandise and drawing, had found that he seemed to have an innate talent for the sword. Killing, it had turned out, was the main goal of that training. 

He had learned to accept that. 

If that was what Allah wanted of him, then that was what he would do. If that was why Allah had called him to war, why Allah had called him away from his family, away from his modest little business, then that was what he would do. If this was why Allah had saved him from drowning in the river that day, then that was what he would do. 

By now, though, he doubted that Allah had anything to do with it. 

Perhaps it was just the will of greedy men, and Allah had nothing to do with it.

 

            They gained the rise, only to be pushed back as a second wave of smelly Franks came racing down from their flank and scattered their troops. Yusuf and his men found themselves on the wrong side of the line. Their commander screamed for them to fight on, fight, fight, rejoin the line, rejoin for the retreat. Yusuf screamed a battle cry, a cry from his home on the Strait, his little town, where the goats roamed the streets and the boys played naked in the river. They circled on a small group of Franks, cut off from the rest of their troops as the Arabs pushed back against the second wave. Yusuf killed one, killed a second, was advancing on a third when suddenly a large sword, a hand and a half, came flashing into his line of sight. He barely managed to pull himself back before the damned thing took his whole arm off. 

It was heavy, glistening with blood; these damned barbarians never cleaned their swords between kills. It caught his arm, but Yusuf had moved just fast enough for the cut to not reach bone, and then the boy that wielded it stumbled forwards as Yusuf pulled away. 

He was just a boy. Barely old enough to know how to fight. 

Or was he? 

Yusuf pulled back, braced himself, blood running freely down his arm, his sword raised to meet the onslaught. He was tall. Skinny was the only way to describe this man, if he was old enough to be called a man. His hair was wild under his helmet, his eyes wilder still. 

Yusuf hesitated. Those eyes... 

What wonderous eyes. Green, like the ocean back home, like the river at twilight. 

He swung his massive sword again, and Yusuf only barely managed to block the swing. The tall Frank screamed in rage, in terror, his eyes wide, wild with the heat of the battle. And with fear. That was fear if Yusuf had ever seen fear. 

Yusuf blocked again but was driven back a step with the ferocity of the attack. He continued coming, swinging wildly, wide frenzied attacks. Yusuf had to use all his skill just to stay on his feet, the throng of bodies at his feet not helping. 

The tall Frank pushed him back again and again, driving him away from his men, separating him from them, blocking his escape. He was mumbling as he fought, mumbling in the Latin language. Yusuf strained to hear him, and shocked he realized that the young Frank was praying as he swung his sword. He was mad, he had to be, praying to his God in the middle of a battlefield. 

Yusuf thought quickly, recalled all of the Latin he had learned in his youth. Then he spoke up, almost shouted at the young Frank. 

“May God be with you!”

The Frank stuttered, hesitated, stopped his swing.

Yusuf had the opening he had hoped to find.

With a quick step to the side, and a balanced dance of so many years of training he brought his sword under the young man’s arm, across his abdomen, up to his chest, and then he turned the sword and plunged it under the ribs. 

He gasped, the young Frank. His enchanting eyes widened, filled with shock, then tears. 

“I am sorry,” Yusuf whispered in his broken knowledge of the Latin language as he twisted the sword. Blood bubbled up in the young Frank’s mouth, his lips moved, his sword fallen to the ground already. Yusuf wrapped his shield arm around the young Frank’s back, holding him up by the sword in his chest, waiting for the life to extinguish in his eyes, for the light to fade, and the darkness claim him. 

“Yusuf!” one of his troops yelled at him, and Yusuf looked up, the moment broken. 

He let go of the young Frank, his long hand clutching at Yusuf’s armour as he fell to the ground, and there the light faded, the darkness took him. Yusuf bowed his head quickly, bent down to wipe his sword on the young man’s trousers and then hurried off, joining the retreat down the rise, the long run back to camp. 

 

            Back at camp they washed, they ate, they prayed, and they went to bed. 

The medical man had bound his cut, which had been less than Yusuf had thought at first. It would heal, even in the dirt of battle, it would leave a small scar. His arm was still aching when he rolled himself into his blanket on his sleep roll, the night wind whispering over his tent. Sleep came slowly, but it came in the end, deep but troubled, as it had been ever since that day at the river. 

 

            Yusuf let out a small scream as he sat upright on his sleep roll, his heart racing in his throat, his body clammy with sweat, his hands shaking as he clapped them over his mouth to silence his scream. Staring out into the night through the tent flap he did not see the stars, he did not see the embers in the guard fires, he did not see the outlines of the other tents, all he saw were those eyes. 

There was no mistaking those eyes. 

They were too beautiful, despite the fear, despite the fury. Pale green and round, the high brow, the narrow face, that birthmark on his cheek. 

Yusuf gasped to catch his breath, tears welling in his eyes. 

He had come to terms with dreaming of his family, of the people he missed, the longing to return home, to find again the youth who had warmed his bed on his last day before he joined the war. That was one thing.

But this... this was different, this was aching, needing, desperate guilt.

Yusuf smothered a sob, and lay back down, staring up at the roof of his tent, his heart hammering in his chest. 

How could this be? 

How could he be dreaming of this unnamed Frank he had killed only hours ago? 

How could he feel guilt over only this one soul? After all the dozens of men he had killed in cold blood, why did this one bring him guilt? 

Sleep did not come again that night, and Yusuf tossed and turned, seeing those green eyes every time he closed his eyes. 

 

Yusuf stopped, resting his sword tip down on the bloody ground, catching his breath, narrowing his eyes against the haze. 

They had been driven back again, the walls of the city within sight now, the stronghold, the aim of these stinking barbarians. It had been two days now since he had met those eyes. Since he had murdered those beautiful, haunting eyes. For they were haunting. 

They were haunting his every breathing moment; every time he tried to sleep, there they were, staring up at him, tears filling them as the life drained from them. And if he slept at all, there he was, that young Frank, fighting, praying, dying, staring back at him in glimpses and flashes, and always, always that deep, bone deep guilt. 

Yusuf shook his head, heaved himself upright, and raced off after the rest of his men, sword raised, ready for more battle. He had lost count of how many he had killed or maimed during this battle. All he knew was that by now, their fight was turning desperate. The Franks had gained too much ground, the gates of the city were within sight, and if they kept coming the way they were, they would gain the city in only a few days. 

Yusuf screamed his battle cry and swung his sword, a Frank racing towards him, hand and a half sword raised to his shoulder, his green eyes blazing. 

 

Yusuf skidded to a stop, almost dropped his sword. 

It was him. 

The young Frank with the green eyes. He came closer and closer, those green eyes wide, frenzied, full of fear again. 

Yusuf was too late. 

He was too shocked and raised his sword too late. 

The feeling of the sword, straight and heavy, so unlike his own curved blade, striking his collarbone, breaking it, then sliding along the lamellar and cutting his neck open was like the weight of Allah’s wrath. His fingers clenched around the hilt of his sword, his lungs filled with blood before his mind had even registered the cut. The young Frank pulled his sword back out of the wound, and Yusuf gasped for air, got nothing but blood. There was nothing but blood, pulsing out of him in a thick waterfall, drowning him. 

 

“Why?” Yusuf asked no one in particular, his eyes frozen on the shocked face of his adversary. 

“I’m sorry,” the young Frank said in the Latin language, lowering his sword, letting go of it with one hand to draw the mark of the cross over his chest. 

As Yusuf sank to the ground and died, his last conscious sight was of the young Frank turning away, entering the fray again. 

 

Yusuf blinked his eyes, coughed, and gasped for breath, his hands wrapping around his neck to stem the flow of blood. But all that met him was skin, sticky with drying blood. Yusuf reached up and pulled his turban off his helmet, rubbing the fabric across his neck to clean the blood off as he sat up. He was sitting between corpses. He had been dead. But there had been no light, no heavenly angels, no welcoming arms of the divine, just darkness, and that peaceful feeling of floating in nothingness. And then falling, waking, finding air in his lungs again. Yusuf looked around, found that the fighting had moved away from him somewhat, but he was still within sight of his men. Once he was sure that no eyes were on him, he crawled towards the fighting a bit before he rose to his feet and ran headfirst into the fray again. 

 

His mind was in turmoil, full of questions and anger and fear, and confusion, so much confusion. 

How could the Frank still be alive? 

Yusuf had killed him, had carved him open and thrust his sword deep into his chest, slicing apart his lungs and liver and heart. And yet, here he was. 

Here he was and he had just killed Yusuf. 

And here he was, still alive himself. Or, alive again.

Yusuf let his fear and confusion take over and the anger directed his sword, swinging, curving in the air, as he danced his battle dance on the heads of his enemies. 

But his eyes were searching, constantly searching, looking for that face again. Those glorious eyes. That youthful, beautiful face. 

That pious sorrow in the face of death. Had he been killed, again? 

 

Was that him? 

 

With the suddenness of a lightning strike, they were faced with each other again. 

The young Frank spun around from killing another of Yusuf’s men, his sword raised in a defensive position, but when he met Yusuf’s black eyes, he let out a cry, and dropped his sword. He stumbled back a step, struck his heel on a corpse, and fell on his back. 

Yusuf stopped, looked down at the fallen man, the heavy sword that had nearly taken off his head laying at his feet. Yusuf stared down at the young man. His helmet had fallen off him, and a shock of sweaty hair the colour of caramel was plastered to his forehead. 

Yusuf felt as if time had stopped. 

It was him. 

He was alive, the man with the enchanting eyes. There was no mistaking that narrow face, the high brow and that birthmark on his cheek. Those enticing lips. 

Yusuf licked his lips, and in a moment of madness he bent down and picked up the hand and a half sword, hefted it quickly in his hand, then tossed it across the corpse to the ground next to the young Frank. Yusuf looked into his eyes and bowed his head quickly. 

“Peace be upon you,” he said in Arabic, and turned away. He could not kill that young man again. 

Not today. 

They were even now. 

If they met again though, Yusuf would have no such mercy in his heart. They were enemies, green eyes and confusing dreams be damned. 

 

He did not see the young Frank again during the battle, nor when they retreated, but he was on his mind all the way to camp. 

While he washed, while he ate, while he prayed, while he lay on his sleep roll, staring at the roof of his tent, the young Frank with those green eyes was on his mind. 

Yusuf wanted to scream. 

He wanted to tear his hair out, rip his eyes out, bash his own brains out, just to stop that image, to make it go away. 

 

All those emotions on that young face. Fear, fury, anger, horror, sorrow, acceptance and death, then life, fear and fury, horror and disbelief, so many emotions. 

Yusuf tossed on his sleep roll, clenching his eyes closed, burying his fists in his eyes, wanting to erase all those images from his memory, and yet, his heart ached to recall them all. Each little line, each little nuance, the way his eyes had dimmed while Yusuf died at his feet, the way his eyes had widened at the sight of Yusuf returned to life. 

 

And that ache. 

 

Yusuf growled into his pillow and tossed over on to his stomach, burying his face in his hands and blanket. He fell asleep that way, face down like a child, hands fisted against his face. He awoke, gasping into his blanket, already wet with tears. 

He had dreamt. 

He had dreamt of that young man again. The young Frank had been praying. On his knees in fervent prayer, a small cross on a chain around his neck, pressed to his lips as he prayed for answers, for explanations, for reason. And Yusuf had been filled with an aching, needing, desperate yearning. 

Yusuf cried into his blanket, biting on the coarse material to smother his sobs. He felt as if his heart would break at any moment. 

Why did he yearn for this man so deeply? 

 



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